Book Talk: Black music, white culture and a legendary U.S. highway
By Randall Mikkelsen
BOSTON (Reuters) - Author Dennis McNally accompanied the Grateful Dead as a publicist and historian on the band's “long strange trip,” and he chronicled Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation author of “On the Road.”
For his latest book, “On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom,” McNally twice drove every mile of U.S. Route 61, the legendary Mississippi River road, to document the influence of black music on white America.
McNally spoke to Reuters about the music and the “freedom principle” underlying more than a century of American experience.
Q: What is the common thread in your writing on American counterculture, and now the influence of black music?
A: I came of age in the '60s, a remarkable era. In this book I started with the question, “What are the deeper roots of the '60s?” The most powerful force that drove people to ask the questions challenging the dominant paradigm, from capitalism to the rules about sex, to the environment, in significant part derived from this 120-year relationship between white people and black music.
I started with Thoreau. If you're interested in divergent viewpoints in American history, he's the place to start. The basis for his entire point of view about challenging American standard thought, socially, was about slavery and African-American culture. It was about reacting to the fact that an enormous number of people in America were not free.
Q: How would you describe the "freedom principle?"
A: The ‘60s was an explosion of the freedom principle. It has its roots in Thoreau, in Huckleberry Finn and in black music. Thoreau, his message was autonomy for the individual and making up your mind. Continued...